Photo above: Costas Vogiatzakis – saddler’s workshop
DEFINITIONS OF CRAFT, text by Kahtrin Solbach (excerpt from MA Thesis)
The word craft originates from the the old English cræft and the Kentish -creft which originally meant “power, physical strength, might.” It is the same origin than the German word “Kraft” which still means “strength, skill.” In English, the sense expanded to include “skill, dexterity; art, science, talent,” thus an extension to “mental power”. In its later meaning it was used for “trade, handicraft, calling,” also “something built or made”. 1
With that in mind, I want to explore what is the significance of this older meaning of craft. In what ways is craft connected to strength and power, how is it empowering? In that first sense, there is no real differentiation between craft and handicraft, rather do they stand for each other. If we take a look at the etymological origin of handicraft the old English handcræft meaning is “skill of the hand”. I would like to take on this non-hierarchical concept of craft and handicraft in opposition to the German conception of “Handwerk” (craft) and Kunsthandwerk (handicraft, but with an emphasis on art). The German word “Handwerk” describes the term very literal: something, that is made by hand. 2
In my understanding, craft is the ability to know a materiality, to understand and reflect it and hence to find a variety of possibilities in handling it through the process of manufacturing by hand, with or without the aid of tools. This includes all kinds of skills and abilities from plumber to potter. Even though I want to practice a traditional craft like ceramics, I aim to understand it in its expanded field. Therefore, I want to analyze its potentials beyond the physical outcome. That is why I want to stress, that I am trying not to implement a hierarchy between different crafts.
Craft has a very long tradition and history. It dates back to the first stick modified by hand or stone to a crafting a tool for hunting and it developed over time, always corresponding to the needs and the culture of a society and the environment it is put in. With the industrialization machines are put into place which creates a distance between the hand and its final work (“Werk”).
CRAFT AND RITUAL, text by Lea Kirstein (excerpt from BA Thesis)
The first commonality between craft and ritual is the significance of physical action. When regarding either craft or ritual in an abstract sense – as a means for communication, framing or catharsis – it becomes apparent that these effects are not achieved through theoretical thought, academic study or verbal dialogue. Instead, craft and ritual are the domain of the body, moving and performing repetitively in a space.
In trying “to explain the embodiment of informality in physical gestures” 6 , Sennett uses the concept of the social triangle. Being comprised of the three factors of “earned authority, mutual respect and cooperation during a crisis” 7 , the social triangle shapes social relations. With this image, Sennett draws a connection between ritual and craft culture: “Like ritual, the social triangle is a social relationship people make. In the craftsman’s workshop, this three-sided relation is often experienced physically, non-verbally; bodily gestures take the place of words in establishing authority, trust and cooperation. Skills like muscular control are required to make bodily gestures communicate, but gesture matters socially for another reason as well: physical gesture makes social relationships feel informal. Visceral feelings are also aroused when we gesture, informally, with words.”8
Repetition & Rhythm
Further, repetition and rhythm are prevalent features in both disciplines. Repetition serves to establish a sense of continuity in ritual, thereby also making the passage of time more tangible by slicing it into regular segments. A sense of linearity or circularity of time can also be implied. In craft, repetition is the basis of acquiring skill: “There is a rhythm which governs the development of human skills. […] ingraining habit, questioning the habit, re-ingraining a better habit.” 9
Nonverbality & Knowledge
Another aspect of the physical qualities of both ritual and craft is that their mechanics are difficult to verbalize, which makes them relatively inaccessible through language. According to Adamson, “the late eighteenth century witnessed the onset of a powerful drive to explicate the mysteries of practical knowledge. But craft has remained stubbornly recalcitrant in the face of this effort, keeping its secrets to itself, thanks to its nondiscursive character.” 10 Adamson shows that the nonverbal quality of craft has since then remained a great source of its fascination. He goes as far as to use the word “magic” 11 to describe this effect, naming it as “one aspect of its cultural power.” 12 However, he warns us again not to get too fascinated with the tacit nature of craft. “Often, this quality of unspokenness is simply celebrated for its own sake. […] the fingerprints of a maker (whether literal or figurative) are routinely fetishized as signs of genuine experience.” 13
In my own opinion, the fascination or enchantment connected to craft and ritual is rooted in symbolism. It is certainly a strong feature in ritual communication, but it can also be found quite easily in craft. Aside from the tools, the workspace, the craftsperson itself, the finished craft product works as a symbol through which the the maker may express something apart from the purely functional purpose: “pots and textiles contain worlds of complexity in their own right. They can send mixed messages. They can be either unselfconscious or pointedly reformist. They are, in themselves, cultural texts that require decoding. […] if we adopt a broad conception of craft, including art, design, industry and ritual, then we begin to sense that what we have in our hands is not a well-kept garden, but a rich and varied landscape.” 14
Regarding its nonverbal quality, Peter Dormer frames craft as a “practical philosophy”, saying “that almost nothing that is important about a craft can be put into words and propositions. Craft and theory are like oil and water. Because of this some people might question whether craft should be called a philosophy at all. But a disciplined craft is a body of knowledge with a complex variety of values, and this knowledge is expanded not through language but through practice.” 15
Myth & Marginalization
This element that brings a sense of mythical meaning to the practices of craft and, also, of ritual, is what has resulted to their marginalization in Western modernist culture. Adamson points again to the late eighteenth century as starting point for the devaluation of craft and ritual. During this time in history anything non-rational was pushed aside as useless hocus-pocus: “magic served as a convenient catch-all concept to explain ‘primitive’ belief systems (cosmology, medicine, conceptions of the afterlife) that did not open themselves to ‘rational’ exchange. For Europeans, these forms of knowledge were legible only as sorcery or idolatry. Here is another parallel with attitudes to knowledge in Europe: at the very moment entrenched belief systems (such as alchemy) were being dismissed as a hindrance to the superior explanatory power of science, the same logic was applied to exotic cultures. Magic became a means of conceptualizing the knowledge of non-European peoples and craft-based knowledge in Europe alike as static, rooted in a primordial past.” 16
Similarly, early studies of ritual were driven by a combination of exotic enchantment and disparaging depreciation for almost a century, in an attempt to “find both the historical origins and the ahistorical or eternal essence of religion”. 17 The theoretical concept of ritual itself “helped construct a portrait of the so-called primitive psyche in terms of how it differed from modern ways of thinking” 18 . This view not only served to legitimate colonialism, but is still echoed today when regions of the world are being talked about as underdeveloped, as if cultures needed to mature into Western standards. “When Europeans made contact with supposedly ‘primitive’ populations, they asked themselves two questions: how might we gain advantage from theses people? And how might we improve them, bringing them within the pale of civilization? Taken together, this meant treating people much like raw materials. The techniques of imperialism mirrored those of industrialization, aiming to banish resistance and achieve total plasticity.” 19
The Invention of Modern Craft
Furthermore, it can be argued that the modern concept of craft was indeed introduced during the industrial revolution, even though its “reputation is as something eternal” 20 makes it seem like something which is “intrinsic to what it is to be human” 21 . In “The Invention of Craft”, Adamson paints a picture of craft practices being put in their place as an antithesis to modern, industrial progress, though they had been an all-encompassing factor of all modes of production before. ”Inexplicable things formerly held great cultural status. But now they were seen as untrustworthy, to be dispelled through rational explanation.” 22 In an effort to refute the common notion of craft as inherently conservative, Adamson claims: “If there is a single lesson to be learned, it is that craft is not simply anti modern. It is rather a strain of activity that responds to and conditions the putatively normative experience of modernity, in many and unpredictable ways. It is understandable that craft is often seen in simpler terms than that – as oppositional rather then adaptive. Modernity, after all, seems hard to stand up to. It is notionally defined by ‘one size fits all’ structures that are temporally and geographically transcendent: rationality, science, capitalism, mechanization, International Style architecture, autonomous artworks and secularism, to name just a few. Craft could be seen as diametrically opposing all of these. It entails irregularity, tacit knowledge, inefficiency, handwork, vernacular building, functional objects and mysticism. Further, craft’s association with gendered, ethnic and local identities could be seen as inherently resistant to (or, potentially, critical of) modernity’s homogenous transcendentalism. […] The point of the phrase ‘modern craft’ is that it contains within both sides of these cultural conflicts. Modern craft would best be seen not as aparadox, on an anachronism, but as a means of articulation. It is not a way of thinking outside of modernity, but a modern way of thinking otherwise.” 23
On a rather abstract level, the significance of context stands out in ritual and craft. More specifically, both practices are tightly bound to the everyday culture, skillfully embellishing it with meaning and ornament. Adamson wraps up the tacitness and repetition within craft as well as its fixed placement in common culture: “For many contemporary observers, the main appeal of craft is its connection to the rhythms and realities of what has been called the ‘everyday’. […] many core cultural assumptions are unspoken, taken for granted. Anthropologists have often looked to artisanal products as a way of getting around these problems, because they seem to make cultural beliefs concrete, but in a seemingly unselfconscious way.” 24 The same can be said about rituals, which have largely been regarded by anthropologists as expressions of the underlying cultural mycelium. Ritual traditionally grows out of the specific way of life of a community of people. Similarly, craft was – at least in its earlier days – necessarily local. Craftspeople have traditionally been an integral part of their communities and guild organizations while at the same time depending on the materials that were available in their region.
Craft and Ritual as Narratives
Walter Benjamin “describes craft as the natural counterpart to oral tradition, pointing to the fact that traditional narratives are often recited while craft work is happening. The tacit values of one reinforce the other, in a woven fabric of knowledge.” 25
Adamson points out that, since its nonverbal nature inhibits teaching through written text, craft skills can be lost and if they are, they can only be revived insufficiently. “In this respect craft resembles oral tradition. Its cultural value depends on a sense of continuity. It is no coincidence that the syntactical structure of craft and storytelling are closely parallel. Both have internal repetitive forms that aid in the act of recall. Reciting an extensive poem, for example, is greatly aided by a composition based on theme and variation. Craft techniques tend to operate in this way too. They are formulaic and mnemonic. As Walter Benjamin noticed, their very forms create the impression of something being remembered.” 26 Fascinatingly, Benjamin is able to show how communal bonding and the transmission of cultural narratives happens with the united forces of craft and ritual: When people regularly (and therefore, ritually) get together to immerse in tedious craft work, stories are being kept alive. With the these situations steadily going extinct, “the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to. The more self- forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed upon his memory.” 27 In this regard, Benjamin reminds us of a state of mind that we might experience less and less as our lives become filled with digital distractions: “Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.” 28
RESILIENCE, SOCIAL RESILIENCE ABD SOCIAL CAPITAL, text by Lisa Eggert (excerpt from BA Thesis)
“’Resilience is not just an outer process: it is also an inner one, of becoming more flexible, robust and skilled.’ The culture of resilience includes processes of reselling, skills-sharing, building social networks, learning from others, learning from other experiences.” (Petcou/Petrescu quoted after Rob Hopkins, 2012: 340)
Apart from ecological resilience, social resilience is an important issue for residents. Different authors write about the relevance of social resilience and resilience building in communities. In their article ‘Disasters and communities: understanding social resilience’ Brigit Maguire and Patrick Hagan define social resilience as “the capacity of social groups and communities to recover from, or respond positively to, crises. (Maguire/Hagan, 2007: 16) […] More specifically, social resilience is understood as having three properties comprising aspects of how people respond to disasters: resistance, recovery, and creativity. A community that is highly resilient has the capacity to demonstrate each of these properties”. (Maguire/Hagan quoted after Kimhi & Shamai, 2007: 17) Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley and Heather Boyer saying that “[r]esilience requires communities to be real and adaptable to whatever threats comes along. […] People in civil society groups are able to respond to all kinds of innovations and issues in their communities through the social capital that they have developed, through networks of trust and hope.” (Newman/Beatley/ Boyer, 2009: 85)
“Social capital—people’s relationships—is what gets things done in human systems, and is richest at the local level. Local connections and presence also create more and tighter opportunities for system feedback, which is essential for adaptation and innovation. For us as social animals, identity is tied to community: our relationships to other people and to a place; our sense of shared experience, history and culture; the smells and sounds and even the soil that we associate with ‘home’.” (Lerch, 2015: 8)